Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (4/28)

  • Jerry Bowry argues that the modern seminary system is broken and we are facing The Seminary Bubble. Although his criticisms focused primarily on mainline seminaries, I found this comment particularly interesting:

Historian and sociologist Rodney Stark finds that the historical pattern fits the current one. Decentralized church systems with a history of less formal schooling historically outperform top-heavy ones with heavy academic requirements.

Admittedly, Austen’s world is idealized, yet consider this: who would you prefer your daughter to bring home? 1) a young man whose sexual imagination has been formed by Jane Austen along with Homer, Virgil, The Song of Solomon, Dante, and Shakespeare or 2) a young man who has spent the last ten years of his life fantasizing about women whose images he has objectified and consumed through pornography?

In light of this reality, Warren is only capable of talking about such social relationships and the nature of social injustice as sin in terms of the abstract.  The concrete reality of unjust relationships does not become part of his discussion because his theological language is not apt to describing relationships in terms of power.  Warren’s silence on the issues of racial and economic justice is indicative of the silence of many European-American churches that choose to remain quiet while instances such as the hanging of nooses in public spaces continues to occur; thus, churches with predominantly minority members are left to shoulder the burden alone in confronting domestic terrorism.

The fact is, there never was a golden age of the church. The New Testament church was just as messed up as the 21st century church. And I take that as an encouragement rather than a rebuke from the past. The early church was full of greedy, bickering, sinful people who did not get along with each other, did not listen to their leaders and even split off from one another when disagreements became too heated. And sometimes their leaders said bad things about each other. Let’s not forget that all of Paul’s opponents were not non-believers, but followers of Jesus who happened to disagree with the apostle. Not unlike what we experience today.

The new universalism is not the old universalism. Fair enough. But those of us who reject even the new universalism aren’t gleeful about it. We might even wish it were otherwise. But we also recognize that even our wishes, hopes, and desires need discipline.

The current state of American evangelicalism

Is evangelicalism declining, maybe dying, or even dead? You don’t have to look around very long to find posts arguing precisely this. Most famously, Michael Spencer argued that This is the End……of Evangelicalism, my Friend and presaged The Coming Evangelical Collapse in a series of posts that sparked considerable discussion.  Many other authors have presented similar ideas while prophesying the end of evangelicalism.

Before commenting further it’s worth noting that we’re only talking about American evangelicalism here. Our international brethren must find it very frustrating when we critique evangelicalism as though American evangelicalism were its only expressions. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, we need to recognize that evangelicalism is a much broader and more diverse movement than we often recognize.

But, despite these claims of evangelicalism’s untimely demise, others beg to differ. In a recent First Things article, Byron Johnson argues that American evangelicalism is alive and well. His basic argument involves the following two basic claims:

  • American evangelicalism is not declining despite statistical evidence to the contrary. His basic argument here has to do with the failure of recent surveys to account for several key realities: (1) nondenominational church members are largely evangelical but often represent themselves as “unaffiliated” or even as having “no religion” (which raises its own issues); (2) evangelical denominations grew 156% from 1960 to 2000; and (3) self-reported atheists still account for only 4% of the population.
  • American evangelicals are not becoming social liberals. In fact, Johnson argues that younger evangelicals are often more conservatives than previous evangelicals and their non-evangelical counterparts.

Johnson thus concludes:

Leading religious observers claim that evangelicalism is shrinking and the next generation of evangelicals is becoming less religious and more secular, but (as we social scientists like to say) these are empirical questions, and the evidence shows that neither of these claims is true. The number of evangelicals remains high, and their percentage among practicing Christians in America is, if anything, rising. Young evangelicals are not turning to more liberal positions on controversial social issues; in some cases they are becoming more conservative than their parents. Perhaps young evangelicals have become more socially aware and have a longer, broader list of social concerns, but they remain socially conservative.

As with most things, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between. The facade of American evangelicalism has developed a number of cracks in recent years, cracks that threaten to widen and permanently scar evangelicalism in years to come. At the same time, American evangelicalism retains a degree of vitality seldom recognized by its critics. I don’t know for sure what the future holds, but it should be interesting.

How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

That is the question that The Gospel Coalition has been asking this week, soliciting responses from Don Carson, Ray Ortlund, Russell Moore, and Mike Wittmer. In sum, they responded as follows:

Don Carson:

  • By making sure that we actually do evangelism.
  • By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation.
  • By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments.
  • By truly loving people in Jesus’ name.

Ray Ortlund

  • By changing the question to, “How can Christians neglect the work of justice in the world without undermining evangelism?”

Russell Moore

  • By aligning our mission with the mission of Jesus, which included not just personal regeneration but also disciple-making.
  • By understanding the gospel accounts in terms of redemptive love for the whole person, both body and soul.
  • By understanding the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor.

Mike Wittmer

  • By recognizing that Christians need to stop the perpetrators of evil and violence.
  • By recognizing that Christians need to seek justice to help the victims of oppression.
  • By understanding that we do both of these ultimately because we love Jesus – we do these things, and we tell them about Jesus while we do, because they matter to him.

Reading through these responses, I have to say that I resonated with Russell Moore’s the most (though Carson’s was pretty good). Moore was the one who made the clearest connection between the Gospel as the good news of God’s redemptive plans for his entire creation, and the things that we do in the world as those who have been transformed by that Gospel and now act as its witnesses/messengers in the world. So, social justice dovetails with evangelism in that both are necessary aspects of those who live as messengers of the Kingdom. As such, neither necessarily undermines the other. But, both can become obstacles to the other when we lose sight of their unity in the Gospel.

Flotsam and jetsam (Labor Day edition)

To celebrate Labor Day, here are some of the more interesting recent blog posts from around the internet on the theme of work and labor.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/23)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

  • Last week I linked to an Inside Higher Ed article on anti-Christian sentiment in higher education. NPR has now produced an article of their own on the subject. And here’s a similar discussion from Christian Post.
  • Gary Cutting discusses the relationship of philosophy and faith by addressing the difficulties that all people face when dealing with arguments for and against the existence of God. HT
  • Out of UR has posted the first two parts of a video discussion between Mark Dever, Skye Jethani and Jim Wallis on social justice and the Gospel (part 1 and part 2). Obviously, they bring very different perspectives to the table, so it’s worth checking out.
  • And, apparently monkeys hate flying squirrels. According to “monkey-annoyance experts,” one of the best ways to annoy a monkey is to place it in proximity to a flying squirrel. The best thing about this article is discovering that there are people out there who make a living out of annoying monkeys. HT

In the beginning, there was work. And it was good?

What are these goofy human creatures that God made? What does it mean to live a truly human life? How do human communities flourish and what does that look like? These are some of the questions that got me interested in studying theological anthropology in the first place. Along the way, I’ve looked at the significance of Jesus Christ for understanding true humanity, the nature of the mind/body relationship, free will, gender/sexuality, eschatology, and I’ve started looking at the ecclesial nature of humanity. Among the glaring absences in this sadly incomplete list is the nature of work. God gave us work to do in the Garden and he has work for us to do in the eschaton. Beyond teling us that eternity won’t be just harp solos and cloud sculpting competitions, what significance does this have for understanding humanity as God intended it?

That’s what I’m off to explore tomorrow. I’ll be attending the Acton University conference in Grand Rapids for the rest of the week. Although Acton tends to focus more on issues of economics and politics, there will be plenty to explore in my own areas of interest. Mostly I’ll be focusing on understanding economics, social justice, and environmental stewardship, hoping that they will all contribute to a better understanding of work and human flourishing in the world.

Here are the seminars that I’m considering at the moment. If I’m feeling really energetic, I’ll try to post some thoughts on the more interesting ones as the conference progresses. We’ll see how that goes.

  • Thoughts on Human Dignity
  • Christian Anthropology
  • Christianity and the Idea of Limited Government (not sure why this is on my list)
  • Economic Way of Thinking
  • Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society (hoping for some thoughts on human flourishing here)
  • Evangelical Social Thought: Justice Grounded in Love
  • Social Justice: Fair and Victimless vs. Free and Virtuous
  • Biblical Theology and Environmental Ethics
  • Bonhoeffer’s Social Ethics
  • Environmental Sustainability: Creature Care beyond Stewardship